A day in the life

Food Labels: What They Really Mean

When we go the grocery store, no matter if it is a mom and pop or a large corporation or even a natural food store,there are a ton of labels on our food now. Most of them are meant to get you to buy the products.  The labels have changed over the years. People are interested in buying Organic, grass fed, cage free  or non GMO type products. After years of more and more chemicals and antibiotics in our food we want our food to be a little more pure.  Most of us are familiar with the Natural  label and the fact that the product may still have additives, however, many of us do not really know what the labels mean these days. Here are a few of the more common ones and what they mean.

Food label

Natural or All Natural: There are no standards for these labels, except for meat and poultry products. For meat the USDA defines natural  for meat and poultry as, “ A product containing no artificial ingredients or added color and only minimally processed (a process which does not fundamentally alter the raw product.)” A statement saying why the term was used must also be used, “no artificial ingredients.” While the USDA has defined “natural” and can enforce its appropriate use, there is no verification system for certifying meat as “natural.”


Non -GMO Project:There are no USDA standard for this label. Interestingly enough it is a group of retailers who test and verify that the products are grown within in the European standard for non GMO products (0.9%). According to the Project’s website “Unfortunately, “GMO free” and similar claims are not legally or scientifically defensible due to limitations of testing methodology.  In addition, the risk of contamination to seeds, crops, ingredients and products is too high to reliably claim that a product is “GMO free.”


Organic4colorsealGIF USDA Organic: To make the use the label “USDA Organic Seal”, according tothe USDA  “the final product must follow strict production, handling and labeling standards and go through the organic certification process.  The standards include such things as  soil quality, animal raising practices, and pest and weed control.  The farmer cannot use synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering. Organic produce must be grown in soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Organic meat the standards require that animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors, fed organic feed, and not administered antibiotics or hormones.


labelHormone Free, No Hormones Administered, No Added Hormones:  The USDA had banned the use of  added hormones in hogs and poultry, any such label on these meats does not mean anything,  The use of a “Hormone-Free” label on meats is prohibited by the USDA, but “No Hormones Administered” and “No Added Hormones” on beef are meant to signify that no hormones were given to the animals. However, these claims are not verified. Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), or recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) is a synthetic growth hormone that is given to  cows to increase their  milk production. Certified organic milk and dairy products are rBGH-free, but there is no third-party certification for dairy products simply labeled “rBGH-free.”


Fish_Chili_Wild_Caught_DecalWild-Caught:  Country of Origin Labeling (started in 2005) rules require unprocessed seafood sold at supermarkets to be labeled as wild-caught or farm-raised. The wild-caught label, however, is not always correct. A Consumer Reports study that found 7 out of the 17 samples of salmon bought in the off-season that claimed to be wild-caught were actually farm-raised. The samples bought during the season that were labeled wild were correct.


079a68fd5bcbfddd526006ec5373dd79 (1)Cage Free,  Grain or Vegetarian Fed, Free Range, Free Roaming: The labels on eggs are particularly deceiving. Cage free means the chickens are not in a cage but does not necessarily mean they have room. Grain or Vegetarian fed means just that. However chickens are  omnivores, which mean for a healthy chicken they must eat both plants and animals. (Usually bugs). Free range or free roaming means that they have access to outside. However there are no regulations as to what “outside” means so they could just be on a small cement patio. Other than the USDA Organic or the Animal Welfare approved the rest of the labels are nonsense.

LabelAmerican Grassfed: The American Grassfed Association certifies that the animals have continuous access to pasture and a diet of 100 percent forage (no feedlots). Unlike the USDA’s voluntary standard for grass fed claims, confinement and the use of hormones, antibiotics  and other medications are prohibited.  According to their website: “All animals are born and raised in American farms. Any animal in need of medical attention must be treated to relieve its symptoms. If prohibited medication or antibiotics are required for treatment, the animal must be tagged, identified, and removed from the certified grassfed program.”